Newsflash: nieuwe Opel Astra ook in volledig elektrische uitvoering

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+++ New FORD Mustang Mach-E lead engineer Donna Dickson stopped by the vlogging studio of former Ford engineer Sandy Munro for an episode of Munro Live where she shared a few tantalizing tidbits about what’s in store for the electric crossover. The big news is that there will be range updates in each of the next 3 model years. “Its year-over-year improvement”, Dickson told Munro. “So, we’ll go and get additional range-improvement actions coming in for ’22, we have more coming in for ’23, and more coming in for ’24”. She was coy about exactly how much range engineers wanted to add each year, and how they’d do it, but it will go beyond software and battery chemistry changes. Dickson said, “We know we have to get some weight out to better those numbers”. Some of the weight savings will come from removing some components and replacing others. For example, when Munro himself tore down the Mach-E’s rear motor, he discovered a mechanical pawl for the parking brake. When he dismantled the frunk, he found a bundle of hoses that could have been attached to a rat king. And there are four pumps at the front of the vehicle, two of them for cooling the motors. Dickson said all those bits were installed as known quantities that could stand up to the automotive use cycle, and were what engineers believed was needed. As real-world data has come back to the team, she said they already plan to get rid of one pump, rework the “overdesigned” hose situation, and replace the pawl with an electronic parking brake. The range discussion begins at about 26 minutes. However, with a total time of nearly 39 minutes, Munro and Dickson talked a lot more than range. The improvements Ford has planned start right at the front of the Mach-E, with Dickson explaining how EPA regulations influenced the frunk’s design and prevented an automatic hood release. She then said that an OTA update would add an automatic release to every Mach-E that’s already been delivered. Anyone interested in the Mach-E should give the whole thing a watch. +++

+++ The ongoing saga of the Chevrolet Bolt (Opel Ampera-e) recall has hit another bump in the road. Now GENERAL MOTORS is saying it will not begin repairs on the approximately 141.000 recalled electric vehicles until its confidence in battery maker LG Chem has been restored. GM spokesperson Dan Flores is quoted as saying, “Because we are not confident that LG has the capability to build defect-free products, we’ve put the repairs on hold and we are not building new Bolts. We’re not going to start recall repairs or start building new Bolts until we’re confident LG will build defect-free products”. GM has issued 3 recalls this year regarding Bolt EV and Bolt EUV models. This was due to several reports of the cars spontaneously catching fire, prompting an NHTSA investigation into the matter. The issue was traced to LG Chem battery packs, which the Detroit Free Press reports has been traced to a torn anode tab and folded separator in the modules. If both these defects are present in the same battery pack, the chances of fire increases. Right now, GM and LG Chem are examining battery packs at the latter’s Holland, Michigan, plant to see what might have caused the manufacturing defect. At the same time, workers are also trying to develop a computer program that dealerships can use to identify which of the car’s five battery modules may have the issue. If they can’t, Flores says GM will replace all 5 modules on every recalled car. The first batch of recalls took place in June. Then in July GM warned Bolt owners to park their cars outside and not charge them overnight as reports of repaired cars catching fire came in. Later that month, GM told owners not to let their batteries drop below 70 miles of charge as well, expanding the recall some Bolts sold overseas. Finally, in August the recall was expanded to every Bolt sold around the world, including 2022 models. Previously, only 2017-19 models were part of the recall. GM is halting repairs, because it believes that its current stock of battery packs may exhibit the defect, according to the Detroit Free Press report. Until it can determine what cause the errors in manufacturing, it’s going to hold off on repairs. In the meantime, GM is advising that Bolt owners set the charge limits at 90 %, do not allow the battery to dip below 70 miles of remaining charge, park their cars outside, and do not leave them plugged in after the target charge is achieved. Coming after the news that every single Chevy Bolt would be recalled, and that production of new Bolts would be halted for weeks, there appears to be somewhat of a silver lining. According to a warranty communication with one 2017 Bolt owner, the battery replacement involved with the recall could give their vehicles up to 8 % more capacity. The note to the affected Bolt owner read: “Enclosed is a communication regarding a recall on your Bolt EV. At Chevrolet, it is out mission to keep you, our customer, at the center of everything we do. To that end, we are writing you today to communicate the first steps on how we will make good on that promise. Because safety is our highest priority, and in an abundance of caution, we plan to replace the lithium-ion battery modules in your vehicle with new lithium-ion battery modules as parts become available”. But the most important part is what follows. At the bottom of the communication, it lists the benefits of said new battery module, which include all-new cells that utilize GM’s most up-to-date chemistry, a new 8-year / 100,000-mile warranty, and of course, an additional 8 % capacity that supposedly increases range. Should that be true, and assuming that 8 % added capacity roughly translates to an 8 % increase in range, that would mean the pre-facelift (2017-2019) Bolt EV’s EPA estimated range of 383 km would increase to 414 km. Not bad if you ask me, and it puts the Bolt / Ampera-e back up there with some of the most competitive EVs in the segment. +++

+++ A fully autonomous HYUNDAI Ioniq 5 robotaxi has been revealed by the South Korean car maker and Motional, a driverless tech firm that was founded in March last year. The Ioniq 5 robotaxi boasts level four autonomy, which means it can drive itself in all situations unless a driver takes manual control. The companies say the car is fitted with 30 exterior sensors, comprising cameras, radar and lidar, to give 360deg perception and an ability to detect objects at an “ultra-long-range” while on the move. Should the car come across “an unusual road scenario, such as road construction or flooding”, Motional says an operator can take control of the vehicle remotely and guide it back to safety. “This robotaxi represents Motional’s vision of a driverless future becoming a reality”, said Karl Iagnemma, president and CEO of Motional. “Through our strategic partnership with Hyundai Motor Group and Aptiv, we have unparalleled automotive and software expertise across our entire vehicle development process. This deep collaboration enables us to manufacture a robotaxi that’s both highly safe and reliable, and is cost-optimised for global production. We’re focused on mass commercialisation and the Ioniq 5 robotaxi is built for that purpose”. Motional said the Ioniq 5 robotaxi will begin transporting passengers in 2023 via self-driving service Lyft, which claims to have conducted hundreds of thousands of autonomous trips in Las Vegas. The robotaxi will operate in “multiple US markets”, although Motional has yet to confirm these. The Hyundai Ioniq 5 made its debut earlier this year, with 58 kWh and 73 kWh batteries offering between 384 and 480 km of range. Models with the larger battery can charge at up to 220 kW, replenishing the cells from 10 % to 80 % full in 18 minutes. The robotaxi will be officially unveiled to the public at next week’s Munich motor show, where Hyundai promises to reveal more information about the vehicle. +++

+++ For the first time ever, Ram leads in J.D. Power’s annual INITIAL QUALITY study with a score of 128 PP100, or problems experienced per 100 vehicles in the first 90 days of ownership. Ram was in third place in last year’s rankings. Coming in second place is Dodge (139 PP100), a sister division to Ram under the Stellantis umbrella, followed by Lexus (144 PP100), this year’s highest-ranked premium automaker, in third. These findings reinforce an overall trend over the last few decades where mass-market brands have outperformed premium brands that tend to introduce bleeding-edge technologies that can confuse owners or fail to work entirely. Genesis (148 PP100) is the only other premium automaker to perform better than average. At the bottom of the official rankings is Chrysler (251 PP100), which seems to make little sense considering most of its technologies are shared with Dodge and many with Ram until you consider that Chrysler only offers 2 platforms and 1 of them is the Pacifica/Voyager minivan twins that are unique to the brand. The next worst are Audi (240 PP100) and Volkswagen (213 PP100). Tesla would fall in between VW and Audi with its score of 231PP100, but because the electric car manufacturer doesn’t provide access to J.D. Power in every state, it’s not officially included. Interestingly, J.D. Power said on a followup call that the problems that Tesla owners report most often are more traditional issues, such as panel fitment, interior noises or paint problems instead of problems with the car’s electronics. According to J.D. Power, the industry averaged a score of 162 PP100. That is four points higher than the overall score in 2020, and 20 of 32 brands improved their quality scores over the last year. That’s a two percent increase in quality in 2021, which is good but slightly lower than the average rate of improvement over the last decade. On a car-by-car basis, the Nissan Maxima leads the overall field with a score of 85 PP100. Issues with infotainment systems (and in particular problems pairing smartphones with in-car technologies) continue to be the top-reported problems. Headaches connecting Apple CarPlay and Android Auto dominate the complaints. “Owners want wireless connectivity, and the industry has responded,” according to Dave Sargent, vice president of automotive quality at J.D. Power. “However, this has created a bigger technical challenge for both automakers and tech companies. Automakers generally are the ones facing the wrath of owners, but this is definitely a shared problem. Owners don’t care who’s at fault: they just want their phone and their vehicle to talk to each other”. While problems with in-car technologies and smartphone integration are legitimate complaints, it’s good to remember that new cars today are overall quite reliable and unlikely to leave their owners stranded on the side of the road. It’s also worth noting that automakers will need to work closely with technology companies like Apple and Google in order to continue refining their software and therefore improving their quality rankings from J.D. Power. +++

+++ LOTUS has recruited a new design boss to oversee the ambitious development plan. Peter Horbury, who currently heads design for Geely Auto, will be moving across to become senior vice president of design for Group Lotus. It is a homecoming for the 72-year old Brit, who has enjoyed one of the most distinguished careers in automotive design and won a Lifetime Achievement award in 2020. While many had expected him to retire when he left Geely, the temptation to lead a smaller company through a transformative product renaissance was obviously too great. Before taking the top job at Geely in 2011, Horbury worked as head of design for Ford of America and did two stints as Volvo’s design director. Horbury’s new role will include oversight of Lotus cars, but also the growing Lotus Engineering consultancy which works for third party clients. Lotus design director Russell Carr, who led the team behind the enthusiastically received Emira, will continue in his current role. Horbury’s empire will also include the growing Lotus studio in Coventry, under the control of Ben Payne, which will do much of the work on the wave of new models. While Lotus’s forthcoming pair of SUVs and coupe-saloon will be produced in China, the company says that all design will be led from the UK. “I first visited Hethel just after Lotus was acquired in 2017 and I’ve been watching closely as the new plans have developed,” Horbury told Autocar, “I’m delighted to be becoming a bigger part of that future”. German media reports say that Stefan Sielaff, who resigned from his role as Bentley’s design director in January, will be taking Horbury’s old role as head of Geely Design, but I await official confirmation on that. +++

+++ The radically restyled and mechanically reinvented 6th generation OPEL Astra will be available as a pure-EV in 2023, it has been confirmed. Giving new details of the reinvented hatchback ahead of its market launch next month, Opel revealed it will spawn an ‘Astra-e’ version to join the Corsa-e, Mokka-e, Combo-e Life and Vivaro-e Life in the brand’s swelling line-up of passenger EVs. Along with British sister brand Vauxhall, Opel will have an entirely electric product range from 2028. Details remain thin on the ground, but the Astra-e will likely share elements of its drivetrain with the electric versions of the Combo and Vivaro, which also use Stellantis’ modular EMP2 architecture. However, given its launch is three years away and the new Astra has a more overtly premium focus than those models, it is likely to improve upon their 136hp output and 320 km maximum range. +++

+++ VOLKSWAGEN is poised to give a first glimpse in the near future at the vital €25.000 ID.2 crossover, which will spearhead a major Volkswagen Group assault on the entry-level EV market when it goes on sale in 2025. The ID 2 will be the first model built on the new MEB Entry platform that is being developed to allow for ‘affordable’ small EVs, and will be followed by models from sister firms Seat, Skoda and possibly Audi. The Volkswagen Group had originally planned to launch the first MEB Entry model in 2023, but that has been put back by 2 years due to the challenges of producing cars that can be sold for a profit at the €25.000 target price. The delay will allow both for an increase in demand for EVs and developments in battery technology that should help the firm achieve its target. The ID.2 will be a compact crossover roughly the same size as the ICE-powered T-Cross, although the flat-floored EV layout means it will offer more cabin space, closer to that of the larger T-Roc. Volkswagen is also looking at an ID.1-badged small hatchback that will be close in dimensions to the Polo, but it will focus on the crossover first. Concerns remain that, even by 2025, technology won’t allow for a small electric hatch to be sold for the same price as an identically sized ICE version. The ID.2 will play a key role in Volkswagen’s expanding ID range of bespoke EVs. The firm has already launched the ID.3 family hatchback, the ID.4 SUV and the ID.4 GTX hot SUV. The Chinese-only ID.6 large SUV has been unveiled and the ID.5 SUV-coupé will be displayed in GTX prototype form at the Munich show. The ID.Buzz MPV and its commercial van equivalent will arrive next year. Volkswagen is also working on its next-generation EVs, starting with the Project Trinity luxury saloon model, which is due in 2026 with autonomous driving capability. The Volkswagen Group has invested heavily in upgrading its software technology and has recently begun offering over-the-air updates for the ID.3 and ID.4. That technology also allows Volkswagen to offer certain car features as downloadable options, and such systems are likely to feature on the ID.2. Selling it with a limited number of options will keep the sales price down, with buyers able to upgrade their cars later. That connectivity tech will also be vital for the likely use of the MEB Entry models on ride-sharing ‘mobility’ fleets, allowing users to hire them via a smartphone and enable the particular features they want. The Volkswagen Group is in the process of introducing a unified battery cell design for the bulk of its future EV models, to help reduce production costs through greater economies of scale. But while the cells will be unified, the overall design will enable the use of differing battery cell materials. The MEB Entry models will use lithium-iron-phosphate tech, which the Volkswagen Group estimates will be around 50 % cheaper to make than current battery cells. Iron phosphate technology has limitations in terms of range and charging times, but Volkswagen Group bosses believe that is less of an issue given the typically fewer miles driven by entry-level city cars. The MEB Entry platform is likely to allow for a number of battery sizes, ranging from 30 kWh to 45 kWh in size. That would mean ranges in the region of 200 to 300 km. It is understood the €25.000 target price is for the base-spec models with the smallest battery, with higher-specification models likely to cost from around €30.000. Achieving economies of scale in production will be key to meeting the €25.000 starting price of MEB Entry models. The Volkswagen Group is aiming to build all the MEB Entry models in Spain and has earmarked the Seat – Cupra factory in Martorell, near Barcelona. But that decision is contingent on securing support from the Spanish government to build a 40 GWh battery plant close to the facility and develop the infrastructure to provide the required components. The Volkswagen Group is aiming to secure funding from Spain’s Strategic Project for Economic Recovery and Transformation. The push to build the MEB Entry models in Spain means the first Seat model on the platform (which brand boss Wayne Griffiths has already confirmed will be a compact SUV) will be a priority, and it’s likely to appear at the same time as, or shortly after, the ID 2. Skoda will develop the platform for a new model, and it’s understood that Audi could use it as the basis for its smallest model yet. +++

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